Restoring the IITA Forest

Deni Bown,

Read the Estonian translation by Anna Galovich

IITA lake and forest. Photo by IITA.
IITA lake and forest. Photo by IITA.

In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, a new project began at IITA to enhance biodiversity and restore IITA’s Forest. Coincidentally, the United Nations (UN) declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests, and the IITA–Leventis Project is preparing to plant over 30,000 saplings of indigenous tree species this year to restore native forests.

The IITA campus (1000 ha) in Ibadan, Nigeria, now largely within the city limits of Ibadan, was acquired in 1965. The land was mostly bush, interspersed with field crops and 26 villages, whose occupants were relocated. After campus construction and the allocation of fields for crop research, about a third of the site—some 350 ha—was left untouched. In 1987, campus residents created pathways through this regenerating post-abandonment secondary forest, resulting in the Forest Trails we still enjoy today.

After more than 45 years as a reserve, and with continuing loss of forest in southwest Nigeria, this area has become an increasingly important refuge for many plants and animals that were once widespread. Together with an artificial lake at the west margin, the IITA Forest shelters a wealth of animal and plant species and provides a habitat for biodiversity in Nigeria.


The IITA–Leventis Forest Restoration Project aims to:

-Restore the existing forest by removing invasive exotic species, such as Chromolaena odorata, Delonix regia, Gliricidia sepium, Leucaena leucocephala, and Tithonia diversifolia, and replanting the area with indigenous species from seeds, wildlings, and cuttings.

-Protect the IITA Forest against disturbance and theft, in particular, against hunting for bush meat and the collection of medicinal plant parts.

-Catalog the biodiversity of the forested areas, mainly in terms of birds, butterflies, and medicinal plants, and monitor changes.

Junonia cymodoce basking in the sun. Photo by Sz. Safian.
Junonia cymodoce basking in the sun. Photo by Sz. Safian.

-Replant the east bank of the lake with indigenous tree species and carry out research into reforestation techniques.

-Engage in conservation educational activities, especially with young people, to raise awareness of the need to protect forests.

-Form local, regional, and international partnerships in tropical forest conservation, research, and education activities.

The team of rangers and nursery workers from the IITA–Leventis Project is led by Project Manager John Peacock, Project Coordinator and flora/medicinal plant consultant Deni Bown, and Nursery Manager Olukunle Olasupo. In the first year, over 21,000 seedlings of more than 40 indigenous tree species were propagated. Experimental plots were established to record the effects of different ground treatments on the growth of 10 species. Reforesting the east bank was also started by planting trees grown in their first Tree Seed Project by the International School at IITA and by the Institute’s staff.

In addition to the School’s Tree Seed Project, a Garden Club was started to show children how to grow, propagate, harvest, and value edible and medicinal plants. There are regular activities to engage children in observing wildlife and appreciating the forest. Moves are also under way to found a Youth Explorers’ branch of the Nigerian Field Society which will use the resources and expertise at the IITA campus. Educational displays of medicinal plants, butterflies, and photo archives of birds were exhibited at events, and information, both printed and electronic, is provided for the numerous visitors.

Together with the Security Unit at IITA, the team also improved the protection of the Forest.

Ibadan malimbe, an endemic bird species in Nigeria. Source: Leventis Foundation.
Ibadan malimbe, an endemic bird species in Nigeria. Source: Leventis Foundation.

Catalogue of forest resources
The IITA Forest is an internationally acclaimed Important Bird Area (IBA). Since March 2010, over 200 bird species have been identified during surveys by Shiiwua Manu, Phil Hall, John Peacock, Adeniyi Taiye, and Matt Stephens. Similar baseline surveys were carried out for butterflies by Szabolcs Sáfián, Robert Warren, and Oskar Brattström, and brought the total identified in the IITA Forest to 220. Deni Bown has to date recorded 431 plant species at IITA; of these, 382 have medicinal uses.

Flagship species
For many people, the Forest is a place of mystery and beauty but something they may not know much about. By targeting conservation efforts on spectacular species, their interest can be focused. The Project has three flagship species: the Ibadan malimbe, Malimbus ibadanensis, an endangered bird found only in the Ibadan area; the iroko, Milicia excelsa, one of Nigeria’s most important timber trees; and the “PG plant”, Pararistolochia goldieana, a liana (a woody vine) that produces the largest flower in Africa.

Pararistolochia goldieana, a woody vine that produces the largest flower in Africa. Photo by O. Adebayo, IITA.
Pararistolochia goldieana, a woody vine that produces the largest flower in Africa. Photo by O. Adebayo, IITA.

The Iroko is of major economic importance but cannot be grown successfully in plantations. The only place where it is now safe from being felled is within the IITA campus.

Likewise, the Ibadan malimbe and PG plant are totally dependent on the IITA Forest for survival.

Over the past 50 decades, the loss of tropical forests in Nigeria has been catastrophic, giving this fragment in IITA considerable importance. Increasing its extent and biodiversity is part of IITA’s new initiative to conserve biodiversity and create an African Science Park or Innovation Africa™. These are valuable resources for local interests and the wider scientific community.